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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Pelosi’s True Spin

Nancy Pelosi accurately — but misleadingly — said more private jobs were created last year than under Bush. Her statement was true. But it's also true that there were still 2,065,000 fewer private jobs in May than there were when Obama took office

At last year's pace of job creation, it would take until February 2017 just to regain the jobs lost since the high point reached under the previous administration. And it would still take until 2015 to regain all those jobs even under the faster pace of job growth during the last 15 months.

Rep. Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader, put the best light she could on a disappointing jobs picture in a June 26 appearance on CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley."

Pelosi, June 26: In the second year of the Obama administration, last year, more jobs were created in the private sector than in the eight years of the Bush administration under the regime of tax cuts.

That's carefully worded, and technically accurate. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that when President George W. Bush left office in January 2009, there were actually 653,000 fewer private sector jobs than there had been eight years earlier when he was sworn in. And between December 2009 and the end of 2010, the economy gained nearly 1.2 million jobs. But those two snapshot figures don't give an accurate picture of the roller-coaster ride taken by the economy, and private employment.

The fact is — despite the 2010 gain that Pelosi boasts of — the latest BLS figures show a loss of 2 million private jobs between Obama's inauguration and May. And if the economy continues to gain jobs at the same average pace that it did in 2010, it will take nearly another five-and-a-half years just to get the number of private jobs back to where it had been at the peak under Bush.

To make the changes easier to see, we have generated this chart using BLS data. It omits the first 100 million jobs and only shows the monthly totals in excess of that. So it gives a somewhat exaggerated picture of the wild swings that the labor force has experience in recent years. What can easily be seen, however, is that Bush's time in office was plagued by two recessions. He took office just before the first one hit, sending private jobs into a slump that endured for the first two-and-a-half years of his presidency, hitting bottom in July 2003. From there, recovery sent private jobs climbing again, and they reached a peak in January 2008.

A month earlier, however, the economy entered what would become the worst recession since the Great Depression. By the time Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, the economy had lost 4.6 million private jobs — and would lose another 4.2 million before finally hitting bottom in February 2010. Since then, more than 2.1 million jobs have been regained — but private employment still must regain 6.7 million jobs just to get back to the peak of private employment reached in January 2008.

At the 2010 rate of job recovery (the timeframe referenced by Pelosi), the U.S. would gain an average of about 98,000 private sector jobs per month; the number of private sector jobs would not reach the peak of 115,610,000 from January 2008 until February 2017.

If one looks at the rate of job growth from the lowest point during the recession to the present (February 2010 to May 2011), the economy has added about 143,000 private sector jobs per month. At that rate, it would still take nearly four years, until April 2015, to once again reach the peak employment level.

At either rate, it's likely that the candidates for president in 2016 will still be debating private sector job growth.

— Scott Blackburn and Brooks Jackson